first.resort.jpgThey don’t abort, but they certainly do court.

First Resort — a pro-life, so-called “Crisis Pregnancy Center” which does not perform abortions — filed suit in federal court Wednesday against the city and county of San Francisco over a recently-passed law that restricts such centers’ advertising, according to First Resort CEO Shari Plunkett.

The law, authored by Supervisor Malia Cohen and approved by the Board of Supervisors on a 10-to-1 vote, bans “false and misleading advertisements” or statements made by crisis pregnancy centers.

The law was to go into effect next month, and would allow the city to challenge advertising after receiving a citizen complaint.

Pro-choice groups predictably praised the law; pro-life groups were apoplectic, saying that the law violated First Amendment rights.

A copy of the lawsuit was not made available to media Wednesday evening, but First Amendment rights are at the center of First Resort’s suit, according to an e-mail from Plunkett.

First Resort has offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and on the Peninsula, where women are given “crisis and prenatal counseling.” The company does not perform abortions, nor does it refer women for abortions, nor does it claim to perform abortions.

Yet it is squarely in the abortion debate, and deliberately so, according to City Attorney Dennis Herrera: a Google search for “abortions in San Francisco,” for example, returns links to First Resort at the top of the results.

That’s one reason why Herrera wrote the group an August letter in which he demanded the group change its advertising practices.

A First Resort spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. In her e-mail blast Wednesday, Plunkett gave thanks to God “who is so faithful and has provided us with” the group’s pro-bono attorney, Los Angeles-based Steve Tuggy from law firm Locke Lord LLP.

“We cannot allow the government to control how and when we tell Bay Area women about our services,” Plunkett wrote. “We believe most women will choose options other than abortion when given appropriate support, unbiased counseling and accurate medical information.”

A spokesman for Herrera said that the office had not yet been served with the suit or viewed the filings made Wednesday in federal court. That said, “We believe the ordinance complies with the law and the City is prepared to defend the ordinance vigorously in Court,” City Attorney spokesman Jack Song wrote in an e-mail.

Cohen spent months with the City Attorney to craft the law in a way that both protects free speech as well as any women at risk of being misled, she said in a statement emailed Wednesday.

“Counter to what many have stated, this legislation does not limit or prescribe what views groups or individuals may express on this issue,” Cohen wrote. “Rather it prevents groups from knowingly engaging in false or misleading advertising about the pregnancy related services they offer.”

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd was the lone city legislator to vote against Cohen’s legislation and cited lawsuits levied against other cities which had sought to restrict entities like First Resort as a reason why.

Elsbernd stopped far short of gloating, however.

“We knew there would be litigation over this… but the City Attorney should defend the ordinance,” Elsbernd said. “I’ll wait until after the trial to say, ‘I told you so.'”

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